I am embarrassed to say that I had not realized that Albert O. Hirschman was still among the living as of late 2012. His work has been so important a part of the world's intellectual and moral framework for as long as I can remember that I had assumed that he -- like FDR, like Louis Brandeis, like George C. Marshall, like name-your-other-consequential-figure from public life -- couldn't really have been part of the same world that contained Justin Bieber, Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, or name-your-other current attention-getter.
But Albert O. Hirschman, who was born in Berlin when it was the capital of Kaiser Wilhelm's imperial Germany, reportedly died today at age 97. I'll try to say more later, but for now I just have time to note his loss and to say: the best way to understand and recognize his life's achievement is to read his short book published in 1970, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty
. It is about the individual's options, and responsibilities, when one is part of an organization that is doing "the wrong thing" -- a business that is failing, a government that is betraying its people, any group embarked on a strategy that seems destined for grave error. The options he lays out have surprising value and resonance through the years, and across different types of organizations facing different sorts of decline. I appreciate his life and achievements and am sorry to hear of his death.
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is a staff writer for The Atlantic
and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. He and his wife, Deborah Fallows, are the authors of the new book Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America,
which has been a New York Times
best seller and is the basis of a forthcoming HBO documentary.